Friday, April 29, 2011

Joanna Russ died this morning.

She had had a stroke or a series of strokes, perhaps beginning as long ago as February, announced publicly earlier this week. She was a great writer, and one who had found her chronic back problems, particularly, had kept her from much formal writing in the last decade or so...her last book of essentially new material, What Are We Fighting For?, Sex, Race, Class, and the Future of Feminism, was published by St. Martin's in 1998; her collection of literary essays and book reviews, The Country You Have Never Seen, was published in 2007 by Liverpool University Press. Word of her placement in hospice came down on my father's parents are the same age as she was, and facing their own range of medical problems...and there was some lack of confirmation of her status till this morning. I had one telephone conversation with her, two decades ago. She was very gracious.

Her The Female Man is one of the best novels I've read. She has written shorter work as good, most of it collected in three slightly overlapping volumes (The Zanzibar Cat [1983], Extra(ordinary) People [1984], The Hidden Side of the Moon [1986]), and the novella (published in its own volume) On Strike Against God, which is recasting in contemporary mimetic terms one of the most personal threads in The Female Man. A student at Yale in drama, she began publishing prose in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction with "Nor Custom Stale" in 1959; she contributed a number of other horror stories to the magazine over the next several years, branching out into science fiction and other modes and publishing elsewhere, essays and reviews for other publications as well as fiction...a favorite of mine from her career's first decade is "Come Closer" (the Magazine of Horror, 1965). She had a kinship with, and a career oddly in parallel to that of, Fritz Leiber, as her series character Alyx, an inherently feminist sword & sorcery tarnished heroine, was the subject of some of her early work, and Russ had Leiber's similar male character Fafhrd as a "guest" in one her stories, as Leiber had Alyx in one of his (Leiber, too, had been primarily a horror-fiction writer who had come from a background in academe and drama to become a key writer in all the fields of the fantastic). Likewise, she had a kinship with Samuel Delany that went beyond their being two of the best-known and probably most important writers in the fields to make no effort to hide their homosexuality.

A wit, and a passionate and analytical thinker and writer. One could only wish she'd had a less physically troubled life, and had had the opportunity to do more work if she chose to.

Joanna Russ at ISFDb
which has a grim little list on its splash page of writers who died on this date in history:
* Aloysius Bertrand (1807-1841)
* F. W. Bain (1863-1940)
* Constantine Cavafy (1863-1933)
* Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980)
* Anthony Boucher (1911-1968)
* Russell Kirk (1918-1994)
* "Richard Cowper" (1926-2002)
* Thomas N. Scortia (1926-1986)
* John Berkey (1932-2008)
* Joanna Russ (1937-2011)
* Peter Griese (1938-1996)
* Joyce Ballou Gregorian (1946-1991)

A recently-published interview, in the Journal of Popular Romance Studies (courtesy of Kate Laity)

The Locus obituary

Interesting reminisces and memorial chat at Making Light including a link to photos of her 1953 high-school National Science Fair activity (though the next photo in the sequence gives a somewhat clearer view of her).

John Clute's revised Science Fiction Encyclopedia entry for her includes the link to the collection of her papers at the University of Oregon, as well as mentioning Farah Mendlesohn's anthology On Joanna Russ.

Kate Laity's remembrance; L. Timmel Duchamp's Ambling Along the Aqueduct: Remembering Joanna; Kathryn Cramer's. Rose Fox at the Publishers Weekly "genre" blog.

Margalit Fox's rather inadequate New York Times obit in the Mother's Day edition.

Previously about Russ:
The Country You Have Never Seen, To Write Like a Woman, How to Suppress Women's Writing

On Strike Against God

Magic Mommas, Trembling Sisters, Puritans & Perverts: Feminist Essays (with Sonia Johnson's Going Out of Our Minds)

FFB: Theodore Thomas and Kate Wilhelm: THE CLONE (1965)

Ted Thomas is one of the underappreciated writers in sf, although he's one with a story that's Caught On in such a way that when people approach librarians or booksellers (when they can, in these parlous times, find librarians and particularly booksellers), they often ask about That story, the one about driving tests...and they usually mean Thomas's punchy little vignette "Test." Though he wrote impressively and well in other work, with such as "The Weather Man" and the short form from which this novel was expanded, as well as having a role in a lot of writerly organizing and conferencing in the late '50s and '60s (he's all over PITFCS, the Proceedings of the Institute of Twenty-First Century Studies, the volume collecting this fanzine of professionals' fannishness having been released by Advent in the 1990s--or is he? I suspect I'm having a middle-aged moment of conflation with his colleague Theodore Cogswell, who actually edited and published the newsletter--both Teds were active in the behind the scenes activities), he remains for most the not quite remembered author of "Test."

While Kate Wilhelm broke into professional writing with a good fantasy story, "The Pint-Sized Genie" (1956), which Cele Goldsmith presumably pulled out of the slushpile at Fantastic, in the years in which Goldsmith attempted to actually do her job as editorial assistant even if Paul Fairman saw his as editor as more one of broker for sight-unseen purchases of unsurprisingly usually unimpressive work, famously particularly from a reliable quartet who could and would do better, but would do what was asked of them for now: Robert Silverberg, Harlan Ellison, Randall Garrett, and Milton Lesser (not yet officially Stephen Marlowe). Even as Fairman left to go managingly edit EQMM, when BG Davis quit Ziff-Davis, bought Queen's and took Fairman along, leaving Goldsmith to make Fantastic and its stablemate into real magazines again (and Fantastic would under Goldsmith publish the short form of "The Clone" in 1959), Wilhelm went on to establish her career in both crime fiction and science fiction, publishing early novels and short fiction in both, and never quite abandoning fantasy and horror (which this novel brushes against), which she would turn more energy toward in future decades, and expanding in contemporary mimetic fiction as well...though her third book would be this fine expansion of the Thomas novelet.

This is a blob story, and the best and most intelligent blob story I know of (though Wilhelm's late husband had an excellent near-blob story with "Four in One"). Unlike Joseph Payne Brennan's fine "Slime" (or Anthony Rud's less impressive "Ooze"), it has a reasonably well-worked out scientific basis for its clone (in one of the older senses of that word in biology) to be an all-devouring entity you don't want to meet. The novel version deals in a little more depth with the characters who are in various ways dealing, some very badly, with this Algis Burdys noted in his review of the book when it was new, at least one character rather convincingly is working out the mechanisms of the creature even as it has trapped him and has begun to consume him. Though a short novel, the panoramic approach so familiar from best-selling bugcrushers, sfnal disaster novels and otherwise, is employed, and deftly...rather memorable multiple characters are heard from, and the book carries a conviction to it rather missing from a certain Steve McQueen film. Even though their next collaborative novel, The Year of the Cloud, wasn't as good, it's notable that both are thoroughly imbued with ecological consciousness, albeit this was post-The Silent Spring, even if some years before Earth Day first was celebrated.

Rick Robinson is riding herd on the Friday Books this week, with Patti Abbott likely back in the links and lists business next week.

April's Music: 1980s and a few callbacks: unforgotten by me, certainly

It's been a rough 48 hours. My friend Laura suggested I treat myself somehow. This music is by me a treat.

Takes this one a while to get to the music...

Scott Parker has the list of links at his even better set than usual. And it's usually good.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Late Links Added: Tuesday's Overlooked Films and/or Other A/V: 26 April 2011

Bill Crider: Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla

Brian Arnold: Rags to Riches

Chuck Esola: Let's Scare Jessica to Death

Dan Stumpf: Band of Outsiders aka Bande à part, with the novel it's based on, Dolores Hitchens's Fool's Gold

Elizabeth Foxwell: The Life and Legacy of Ernie Kovacs

George Kelley: Santa Sangre

James Reasoner: Avenger

Jerry House: The Gaunt Stranger

Kate Laity: 2011 Popular Culture Association Conference

Patti Abbott: Imitation of Life (1959)

Pearce Duncan: The Phantom of the Opera (1989)

Randy Johnson: Mike Hammer (1958-59)

Scott Cupp: Streets of Fire

Steve Lewis: Mirage (1965)

Todd Mason: Journeyman and Kidnapped (2006) and a Hugo Nominee for short-form drama

Walter Albert: Murder in Trinidad

Of related interest:

Ed Gorman: Talking Funny

Jake Hinkson: Decoy

Tuesday's Overlooked A/V: JOURNEYMAN, KIDNAPPED and a Hugo Nominee...

Journeyman was one of the best science-fantasy series we've had so far, and NBC gave up on it after 13 episodes, because it was getting worse ratings than CSI Miami, an established series and part of a clangorous franchise, without trying it in any other timeslots or promoting it much. It starts well, with reporter Dan Vasser (played by Kevin McKidd) suddenly finding himself unstuck in time (to borrow Kurt Vonnegut's phrase), unsure at first if he's having delusional blackouts (his wife, Katie [Gretchen Egolf], is even more unsure). Turns out that he's not, and that he's become an involuntary time-traveler, apparently dumped at the space/time site of various snags in fairly recent of the first of which takes him, apparently randomly, to an early waitressing gig of his late previous fiancee, Livia Beale (Moon Bloodgood, already a veteran in 2007 of another initially impressive timeslip series, Day Break). Vasser's brother, cop Jack (Reed Diamond), is as concerned as Katie, with matters complicated by Jack having been previously involved with Katie, before driving her away (and eventually to wed his brother). What made this series so impressive was not so much the originality of the materials, but the sophistication with which they were used; there's a deftness and solidity to both the human interaction and the fantasticated elements in the series that's rare in any fantastic drama, and they even managed to bring elements of the series to a satisfactory conclusion, if open-ended, at the end of the thirteen episodes they were able to do...all thirteen of which are accessible for free on Hulu and via IMDb's Hulu links.

From Crackle: Pilot

Kidnapped was an NBC orphan in the previous, 2006 season, a serialized drama using a modified Rashomon approach to the kidnapping of the adolescent son (Will Denton) of a wealthy couple (Dana Delany and Timothy Hutton), and the efforts of the parents, their daughter, the FBI, a private investigator also working the case, the kidnappers, various political figures behind the crime, and the young man himself to get by, get over, or get away. The first episode was unsurprisingly exposition-heavy, and rather more pedestrian and fraught than it needed to be, but as the series continues (and all the episodes are available, on DVD and on Crackle, as with the pilot above), the complexities and depth of the drama proliferate very satisfyingly, which unfortunately is not the best way to set up a heavily serialized drama (it helps if you're agressively good from jump, because it's going to be difficult for many viewers to jump in as the series goes along). This was certainly Delany's best series after China Beach, Hutton's best tv work along with Nero Wolfe, and eminently worth seeing through the early scene-setting, as it digs in and reaches a fine conclusion (again, a series that took into account that it might not ever get that "back nine" full-season order of episodes from the network).

And a rather remarkable parody of the Britneys and such, in the service of Very Cheekily celebrating Ray Bradbury, has been rather improbably nominated for the Hugo Award for Short Form here's "Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury" for your delectation and possibly World SF Convention voting consideration...

Friday, April 22, 2011

FFB: HELL'S CARTOGRAPHERS edited by Harry Harrison and Brian Aldiss (Harper & Row/Wiedenfield & Nicholson 1975)

Among their collaborative projects in the 1970s, along with most notably the Best SF annual published by Berkley, Briton Brian Aldiss and US world-traveler Harry Harrison co-edited and -published the critical and literary-historical journal SF Horizons, an engaging and contentious magazine that was reprinted in boards by the late '70s so that I could find it at one or another Hawaiian library, and would make it's own even more obscure Friday Book...but among the offshoots of that effort was this anthology of autobiographical and procedural essays by six important writers in the sf field, including the editors themselves. And these essays, in their turn, were at least the seeds of Damon Knight's group memoir The Futurians and Frederik Pohl's personal The Way the Future Was, if not also of the longer or collected memoirs since published by Aldiss and Robert Silverberg.

Writers are rarely averse to producing autobiography at some length or in some format, but this was, I think, the first selection of autobiographical essays by sf writers to be published, at very least by large commercial publishing houses. I'd seen Alfred Bester's first, "My Affair with Science Fiction," for it appeared first in Harrison's anthology, otherwise given to first-publication of fiction, Nova 4 (1974), sadly the last of that fine series, and the paperback edition of which, from Manor Books of all people (and they did an unusually elegant job with it), was the first book I ever gave my father as a birthday gift, to his surprise. Bester, in his usual breezy style, takes us on a quick trip through his early writing experiences (his first published short story is repurposed at submission to win a contest at Thrilling Wonder Stories that Robert Heinlein was considering entering with his first published short story, "Lifeline," till Heinlein noted that selling the same story to Astounding Science Fiction, if he could, would make slightly more money than the contest prize; as Bester elsewhere recalls saying to Heinlein much later, "I won that contest and you made ten dollars more than I did."), how he came along with TWS editor Mort Weisinger when he moved over to DC Comics and worked with other writers on all but Batman "and Rabinowitz" scenarios for a few years, before breaking into radio-drama and nonfiction writing, particularly for Holiday magazine, all the while continuing to publish increasingly sophisticated and adventurous sf and fantasy (and how John Campbell's embrace of Scientology helped chase Bester away from his magazine). Harrison followed a similar path, though he started professionally in comics, and sold his first short story to Damon Knight at Worlds Beyond in 1951; oddly enough, Knight also started professionally as much a visual artist and illustrator as he did writer, with his first professional publication being a cartoon in Amazing Stories in 1940 (among his more notable illustration jobs was for Weird Tales's reprint of Lovecraft's "Herbert West, Reanimator" in the March, 1942 issue, the same one that features Robert Bloch's "Hell on Earth," noted here recently; the HPL story had first appeared in the little magazine Home Brew).
I had read Knight's and Pohl's books previously, so their essays were interesting mostly for the small counterpoints to the longer texts, but hadn't read too much autobiography at that point from the youngest contributor to the book, Robert Silverberg, nor from the only non-Yank contributor, Brian Aldiss, and so Silverberg's journeyman passage through the men's sweat magazines and similar markets rather than comics nor primarily the pulps (though Silverberg would contribute to many of the last of the pulps as that format of magazine faded with the passing of the 1950s, and their children the digest-sized fiction magazines flourished) is a counterpoint, as was Aldiss's early experience of American fiction magazines (in the post-war era, often dumped on the British equivalents of five and dime stores after serving as ballast in cargo ships, and comparable to the influence of American records on the young musicians in Britain of the '50s and '60s) and his career as someone just a bit to the side of the Angry Young Men but like them willing to explore every sort of literature if it looked at all interesting or fruitful, while particularly devoting himself to developing his work in sf...the title of this book echoes that of once Angry Young Man Kingsley Amis's collection of lectures recast as essays, New Maps of Hell, one of the important works of criticism about sf to arise at the turn of the 1960s, along with such collections of critical pieces as Knight's In Search of Wonder and James Blish's The Issue at Hand (and Blish would probably be in this book, but was in the process of dying from cancer and the effects of cancer surgery while it was being prepared; Aldiss notes that Michael Moorcock begged off, as the only requested contributor to do so out of what Aldiss considers excessive modesty...though perhaps insufficiently-cooled anger by the mid-'70s over what had happened to Moorcock's baby New Worlds magazine might also have played a part).

So, a key book in the history as well as about the history of the science fiction field, and good fun as well as touching and startling at times, and consistently illuminating.

For more of today's "forgotten" books, please see Patti Abbott's blog.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Films and/or Other A/V: 19 April

Thanks as always to all contributors and readers, and please let me know if I've missed your contribution, or you'd like to have one registered here...household emergency delayed posting, so sorry about that, earlybirds...
Zasu Pitts as Hildegarde Withers, visible on cable channel TCM at 1p ET today.

Bill Crider: The Sword and the Sorcerer

Chuck Esola: Raw Force

David Vineyard: The Runaway Bus

Eric Peterson: The Trojan War

Evan Lewis: "Mother Goose Goes Hollywood"

James Reasoner: Lifeguard

Jerry House: Forty Naughty Girls

Patti Abbott: Kawasaki's Rose

Pearce Duncan: Prison (1987)

Randy Johnson: The Girl Hunters

Scott Cupp: Eight-Legged Freaks

Steve Lewis: Heat Lightning

Todd Mason: Crackers (1984)

Walter Albert: Man of the West

Of related interest:
Budd Schulberg: A Face in the Crowd

George Kelley: An Army of Phantoms by J. Hoberman

K. A. Laity: Converting Monks into Friars

Sara Gran: Escape from New York vs. Sweet Valley High

Overlooked Films and A/V: CRACKERS (1984) and...

Crackers (1984) is a decidedly odd film, less for its intrinsic content, a not completely humorous heist film, as for its obvious relation to the fiction of the late Donald Westlake, particularly the Dortmunder stories, the relatively lighthearted series Westlake spun off from the relentlessly grim Parker series, when a Parker plot he was developing kept wanting to be written about reasonably sensible, professional crooks who kept being foiled by circumstance, rather than ruthlessly and efficiently succeeding (as Parker does in his stories). The novel that introduced Dortmunder and his crew, The Hot Rock, was famously filmed featuring Robert Redford as Dortmunder.

Crackers, written by Jeffrey Alan Fiskin and directed by the hardly obscure Louis Malle, features the even less obscure Donald Sutherland as the Dortmunder-like character who can't seem to catch a break, named, cheekily, "Westlake." The crew of safecrackers and supporting staff is masterminded by "Westlake," who has a Dortmunderesquely complicated plan to steal a thug's safe with some inside help. Nothing goes completely right.

The film has a pretty impressive cast, many of whom had and/or would again work with Malle, such as Sean Penn (not good, but not the hambone he has since become), Jack Warren, Wallace Shawn, and Christine Baranski, and introduced Tasia Valenza, who has mostly done animation voice-actor work in the last couple of decades (though a lot of it), and was an early credit for Trinidad Silva, who would make more of name for himself with his recurring role on Hill Street Blues. As a semi-comedic heist film, it almost succeeds, with a lot of failed jokes mixed in with decent ones, and some dramatic gambits which simply don't pay off (such as the young woman who wants to become a prostitute persuaded not to by the goodnatured pimp, koff, who has grown fond of her).

But what's strange is just how much this film echoes an already-established literary and to some extent cinematic franchise, with a wink and a nod and no claims of parody, just attempts at pastiche. As one writer put it, having heard the description of the film, "sounds actionable."

This film is not currently available on dvd, and I don't think it was ever issued on disc, though a VHS release some time back was available. Amazon and perhaps others will stream it for you...Hulu was offering it for free at one time, but no longer. I caught it, rather randomly, on a pay movie channel some months ago.

Friday, April 15, 2011

FFBs: HRF Keating: CRIME & MYSTERY: THE 100 BEST BOOKS; Lupoff & Thompson, eds.: ALL IN COLOR FOR A DIME; Peter Nicholls, ed. SCIENCE FICTION AT LARGE

H.R.F. Keating passed on 27 March, and we lost another gentleman, by all accounts, in the CF field, one who had been a fine fiction-writer (most famously for the Inspector Ghote stories) and critic both, and this book, widely available but barely in print (the current edition is handsome, but still a product of the collapsed Carroll & Graf; one hopes Running Press or someone might reissue it), is a gimmicky (in format, and I think the first of its series for C&G, which series has also included notable volumes on sf and horror fiction) but no less valuable selection of a hundred important and valuable books in the CF field, most of them of the "true" mystery rather than suspense or other related fields, some collections (leading off, unsurprisingly, with a Poe collection) though most novels, all given two-page essays to limn their virtues and what flaws they overcome. The Keating assessments are bookended by Patricia Highsmith's two-page introduction (even Highsmith had nothing but good to say of Keating) and an unsigned "Publisher's Note" adding a 101st entry, for one of Keating's own Ghotes. Aside from the insightful and deftly-written vignette entries, Keating also doesn't respect received wisdom: he nominated for Ross Macdonald The Blue Hammer and for John D. MacDonald The Green Ripper, the often-dismissed last novels in the two Macs' famous series (Lew Archer and Travis McGee), and makes the case for these specific novels well (hey, I started reading RM with The Blue Hammer, and I wasn't sorry), while the all but inarguable classics (Stanley Ellin's short fiction, The Maltese Falcon, Murder on the Orient Express, The Friends of Eddie Coyle) are treated similarly. Despite at least one dunderheaded comment I've seen, going on about how "outdated" this book is since it was published in 1988 (remarkable how books spoil, isn't it), the book is joy to go through, argue with, and be informed as well as amused by.

Also "outdated" (I mean, it hardly deals with comics after the '40s! I mean, come on!), All in Color for a Dime, which I've reread in the Krause Publications 1997 reissue, retains the enthusiasm of the new ground being tilled (since most of the essays at least have roots in articles in Xero and Alter-Ego, with Comic Art pioneering comics (and other matter) fanzines from the earliest '60s, and this book was pioneering when first published in 1970). The contributors run most of the changes one could want on their subject matter (and they range from such passionate professional writers of fiction and pop-culture history as Ron Goulart, Harlan Ellison, and Lupoff himself through folks with feet in multiple camps such as Ted White and Jim Harmon, to folks whose primary work was extraliterary, but nonetheless, such as Chris Steinbrunner, had a long engagement in criticism or other sorts of similar work in literary circles (Steinbrunner was, among other things, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine's a/v columnist for a decade or so: "Bloody Visions"). While, as I mentioned last week, the Blue Beetle is nowhere mentioned (the book is not attempting to be comprehensive), the coverage of the evolution of the Love Romances Publications line of comics, Planet Comics and its stablemates, would be worth the price of the book alone, as would the pioneering Lupoff article on Captain Marvel and his eventual clan, or Ellison on the George Harriman-esque George Carlson (only Carlson was busy where Harriman was lean).

Science Fiction at Large, the first anthology of critical essays (speech transcriptions rendered into essay form) I read, which had somehow found its way into my first high-school's brand-new library in 1978, and featured impressive essays by Ursula K. Le Guin and Thomas Disch which were to grow into or form important parts of later books (UKL's "Science Fiction and Mrs. Brown" was collected in her The Language of the Night; "The Embarrassments of Science Fiction" is integral to Disch's The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of and has been collected in his On SF), as well as by Harry Harrison, Alan Garner, John Brunner, Robert Sheckley, Philip K. Dick, and the editor; Edward De Bono's introduction to his take on "lateral thinking" was very useful to me then, and remains so. I haven't yet reread John Taylor's essay, and Alvin Toffler's remains slight. A book worth seeking out.

For more of this week's "forgotten" books, please see Patti Abbott's blog.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Films and/or Other A/V: 12 April

Thanks as always to the participants, and feel free, dear reader, to join in (and let me know you have) if it looks at all amusing to do so...

Bill Crider: You Never Can Tell

Chuck Esola: I Need That Record!

Eric Peterson: Living in Oblivion

Evan Lewis: "Music Land" (1935)

James Reasoner: Damn Your Eyes

Juri Nummelin: The Concrete Jungle

Patti Abbott: China Beach (among the MIA on dvd)

Scott Cupp: The Blood of Fu Manchu

Steve Lewis: Seven Thieves and David Vineyard: The Mind Benders at Mystery*File

Todd Mason: Angel of Death (2009), DVD commentaries and extras; Kiss Kiss

Of related interest:

Brian Arnold: aggro Easter Bunny clips

George Kelley: The Princess Bride

Jack Seabrook: Fredric Brown on TV (Part 4)

Kate Laity: Broad Pod

Overlooked Films and/or Other A/V: ANGEL OF DEATH (2009); decent dvd commentaries and extras; Roald Dahl stories dramatized on BBC Radio 4

From Crackle: Edge

Crackle, which is apparently not quite a subsidiary of Sony/Columbia but acts pretty much like one, offers a number of film, television and web-series items in basically the same mode as Hulu and a few other streaming services...though Crackle's feature films aren't interrupted by advertising (at least, The Big Town wasn't). Among the web series they offer is this one, Angel of Death, based on Ed Brubaker's comic and written for the flatscreen by Brubaker as well, in ten roughly 6-7-minute webisodes, and will be worth the attention of those who like over-the-top hardboiled and who've missed it so far, though nothing about it will surprise anyone too much. It's very slickly done, featuring Zoe Bell as Eve, a hitwoman with no illusions about the nature of her job or her life, who, in a semi-botched job with complications, takes a non-lethal knife in the brain--but the neural scramble might or might not be the source of hallucinations and a lessening ability to kill in cold blood. Unhappily (or happily) for her (and the audience), there is no lack of folks who heat her blood up just fine, and Bell does a good job trading blows and bullets with her adversaries (apparently she was most prominently a primary stunt artist in Tarantino films before this production); an Australian, she's joined by such stalwarts of antipodean fistfight drama as Lucy Lawless and Ted Raimi in supporting parts, while Brian Poth does a decent job as Graham, her immediate boss/dispatcher and sex-buddy (neither, here's one of those non-surprises, is willing early on to admit that they are bit more than casually attached). It's surprisingly shy about nudity or particularly explicit sexual activity, but isn't afraid to show a victim's head being blown off (at a ?tasteful distance), and James Reasoner be warned--that bit, and one or two others, results in a character losing some lunch. But since the comic-book/cartoon edge of hb has certainly been exploited by any number of films over the last decade (and more than that if we include the Hong Kong films), there's nothing here that will freak out a contented viewer of Shoot 'Em Up, and a nicely gritty bit of storytelling awaits, even if a few bits, ranging from Eve trying to convince her former colleague in training that he should Just Walk Away from their life, or her standing in silhouette against a city skyline, that don't quite make the cut of ironically or mythically getting past their overfamiliarity. She kicks ass, and isn't interested in names; it has some wit about it, and only one pathetic martial artist showboating in such a manner as to leave himself open to easy destruction. Joe Bob would say, you can't beat the price.

I've been listening to a lot of dispirited and half-assed dvd commentary tracks over the last year or so, so it's a pleasure to note that in my recent purchases of several Diane Lane films for relatively cheap, at least two are shining exceptions to the trend. The rather bad if well-shot (and Lane's excellent in it) Unfaithful is full of decent extras, almost to the Criterion level of ladling on, including a career-spanning, if rather brief, interview with Lane alone. I will have to see the Chabrol film Unfaithful rips off sometime. The other, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains, is also not a first-rate film by any means (if better in several ways than The Runaways, whose experience as an all-teen-girl punk-rock band both films are based on), but Lane (fifteen at time of the production) and co-star Laura Dern (13 and supposedly passing for 17 in part through being six feet tall) provide a commentary in the 2008 Rhino release that helps make it great fun to sit through again. The Big Town and A Walk on the Moon have no extras...which is a pity, but both of those films are good enough to stand on their own.

It's an irony of sorts that Kiss, Kiss, a selection of five stories from the Roald Dahl collection of that name, are being dramatized in fifteen-minute segments as part of BBC Radio 4's Women's Hour, given the rather broad streak of misogyny that ran through the man and much of his work...but at least the women characters get at least some of theirs back, as in the first in the series, "William and Mary," which will be audible at the link above for the next week, as the other four stories are made available with each successive day, also to be accessible for a week. The cast:
Storyteller (narrator)....Charles Dance
Mary.......Celia Imrie
William......John Rowe
Landy......Nigel Anthony uniformly fine in the first, and Dance, at least, will be a unifying voice throughout. Very pleasant, brittle little nasties, indeed. ("Parson's Pleasure," "Royal Jelly," "Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat" and "The Landlady" are the other stories slated for adaptation.) It's been a while since I read these, and I'm not sorry to be reminded of them thus...though I have to wonder if they can quite match the power of "Royal Jelly" in straight prose...

Friday, April 8, 2011

FFBs: SCIENCE FICTION: THE ILLUSTRATED ENCYCLOPEDIA by John Clute (DK 1995); THE AGE OF ROCK edited by Jonathan Eisen (Random House/Vintage 1969)

Intellectual Approaches to Pop Culture: Special Topics: 1960s Rock and Pop, and Science Fiction Film Imagery, in Context (BLOG 301, 7-10:30p Tuesdays, 3 Credits)

I have been reacquainting myself with a number of the important nonfiction books of my youth (important to me, anyway...the best kind of important book) and will probably comment soon on the Peter Nicholls anthology of transcribed speeches, Science Fiction at Large, perhaps along with the earlier not dissimilar The Science Fiction Novel: Imagination and Social Criticism by Bloch, Kornbluth, Heinlein and Bester (with an introduction by Basil Davenport, who is sometimes listed incorrectly as editor) and also with Kingsley Amis's also similar New Maps of Hell thrown in...and maybe on the Lupoff & Thompson anthology All in Color for a Dime...

But today I'm looking at the 1995 Dorling-Kindersley John Clute coffee-table gloss on the Peter Nicholls/David Langford/Brian Stableford/John Grant/John Clute production, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1995), a massive expansion of another massive work also edited by Nicholls, The Science Fiction Encyclopedia (1979)...all that to help distinguish these from all the other works of similar titles and ambitions, such as the rather good and pioneering Donald Tuck The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy (Advent: Publishers, Volume 1 published 1974), Brian Ash's well-illustrated but, aside from a long and detailed timeline section at the front of the book, jumbled The Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1978), and Robert Holdstock's The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1983), among others since (George Mann's, Gary Westfahl's...).

All of these references, most of which don't have enough room to cover the breadth of their subjects sufficiently (the Tuck, which intentionally cut off coverage at 1968, and the two Nicholls books being the closest to having the necessary amplitude), are of course cursed with the other two primary problems of reference works about the arts: what to leave in and what to leave out, and the attempts to incorporate the facts with some critical sensibility, to help determine the importance and quality of the work in question (in references about the sciences, and other matters closer to objectivity, these two problems are more like one problem).

So, this book, produced for the Dorling Kindersley line of massively illustrated, usually coffee-table books (preferring photographs, as much as possible), was an interesting problem all to produce a handsome, easy-reading, eye-catching gloss on the unillustrated 1993 Encyclopedia, that might supplement that work in a sense, as well as get across the flavor of the work in question...and follow in the better tradition of David Kyle's The Pictorial History of Science Fiction (one of my choices last week) and not the worse of Franz Rottensteiner's The Science Fiction Book or Ed Naha's The Science Fictionary...there's the rub. And while this volume picked up the 1996 Hugo Award for best nonfiction volume, it's not a complete success, though perhaps about as good as could be hope for given the restrictions on it.

It had to be colorful and, as noted, to feature as much photography as possible...this unfortunately lead to the selection of sometimes rather random film and other A/V still images, even to illustrate the short entries on the fiction writers whose work was adapted by the films the stills come from...the rather unfortunate makeup job on the character with a prosthetic face from the film adaptation of Algis Budrys's Who? thus dominates the entry on Budrys, a less goofy but still not altogether impressive image from the 1984 film of Dune dominates the entry on Frank Herbert, and so on. The proofreading, perhaps particularly on the captions, was not quite what it could've been...a citation for Asimov's SF Adventure Magazine, the shortlived space opera sibling of Asimov's Science Fiction, is given as having lasted one issue, when it actually ran for four quarterly issues...and in a volume which completely ignores Fantastic and any number of other magazines, making a point of mentioning ASFAM seems oddly random (even if it was to make the point that not all Asimov ventures had been moneymakers).

But it does present a lot of good visual art, and reasonable entries on the writers, themes and other matters covered (and while the timelines that run throughout the book are actually a step down from the quality of the timeline section in the Ash book, they are still helpful in providing some context, if a bit redundant at times when joined with the entries, such as the citations of R. A. Lafferty in both contexts). It is not and never should be considered a replacement for the 1993 (or 1979) Encyclopedia, which is getting a new edition, but it is an enjoyable book to page through, and like the Kyle it does pair some striking imagery with sensible text.

My copy of The Age of Rock just arrived yesterday, so I've barely had time to reacquaint myself with this, one of the first if not the first anthology of critical pieces to be published by a non-specialist publisher (perhaps by any), but the range of the writing assembled here, from the likes of Harry Shearer, Murray Kempton, Lenny Kaye, Sally Kempton, Paul Williams, Nat Hentoff, Ralph Gleason, and Richard Fariña on through Tom Wolfe and Joan Didion to Richard Meltzer, gives a sense of the attempt to be thorough within its compass (this 1969 book is subtitled "Sounds of the American Cultural Revolution" and it does favor the leftist press...though I suspect the rightwing press wasn't publishing too many critical appraisals of rock music, so much as condemnatory rants, in the '60s). Dave Marsh never liked it much, and it's missing any contribution from Lester Bangs (who really got going at the end of the decade), but it inspired some thoughts in me when I read it some thirty-plus years ago...Donald Wollheim's Very Slow Time Machine, our lives, hits home...

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Films and/or Other A/V: 5 April (the many obstacles edition)

Wishes for quick recuperation to Steve Lewis, Jerry House, and to Chuck Esola's near and dear. Jackie Kashian also was in a minor traffic accident this week. It pays to know me.

Bill Crider: Undersea Kingdom
Eric Peterson: Living in Oblivion
George Kelley: Monty Python: (Almost) The Truth (The Lawyer's Cut)
James Reasoner: Black Lightning
John F. Norris: The Prowler
Kate Laity: Vision: From the Life of Hildegard of Bingen
Randy Johnson: Crime Doctor
Scott Cupp: When Worlds Collide
Todd Mason: The Big Town; Maigret Has Scruples

Of related interest:

Allan Mott: The Legend of the Lone Ranger
Chuck Esola: My Cinematic Alphabet
David Cramner: Archer
Jackie Kashian: Ed Brubaker and Kermit Apio
Patti Abbott: The Adjustment Bureau
Sara Gran: Peeping Tom (which those Med Show funsters pretend to think is mostly valuable as an antecedent to Brian DePalma's oeuvre...much as Olivier inspired Seagal)

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: THE BIG TOWN (1987); MAIGRET HAS SCRUPLES (2004)

The first of my films this week has probably been more overlooked by me than most of you who might be reading popped up on the digital broadcast network This TV on Thursday night while I was eating a late supper, and while I was vaguely aware of its existence, I had never made an effort to see it...but as the ridiculously impressive cast credits rolled by, and even more impressively to me, the fact that it was an adaptation of a Clark Howard novel, The Arm, made it necessary to give it some attention. (That cast includes Matt Dillon, Suzy Amis, Diane Lane, Lee Grant, Bruce Dern, Tommy Lee Jones, Tom Skerritt, Cherry Jones, Del Close, and as Amis's character's young daughter, Sarah Polley. Ridiculous. The casting director, Nancy Klopper, deserves an award named after her...the other folks who haven't become as famous since, or weren't already, are as good.)

The second is part of a series of French/Belgian/Swiss (mostly French) telefilm adptations of Georges Simenon's novels, part of the rotation of International Crime Drama, Sundays and Tuesdays at 9pm ET/6pm PT on the small (about thirty affiliates nationwide) US public television network, MHz WorldView (and the oldest set in a "wheel" otherwise mostly devoted to such Scandinavian and Italian fare as the Swedish Wallander films, of late Irene Huss, and Montalbano...though some Tatort episodes, the German Law & Order equivalent, also make the cut). The late Bruno Cremer capped his career, moving from supporting roles to center stage with the role of Maigret. (Scruples will be repeated twice tonight on the network.)

I have never learned the rules of the gambling dice game craps, but that doesn't diminish the suspense built up around some of the games in the somewhat leisurely, but richly detailed and "lived-in" The Big Town, which involves a young Indiana man's coming to Chicago in 1957, after apprenticing as an "arm," a hotshot dice-thrower, with an old family friend who has connections with the Chicago craps underworld. Matt Dillon is good as the mildly sullen but guardedly openhearted young man, who soon finds himself involved with two "tainted" women: one an intelligent, thoughtful, and unwed mother (Amis), the other a stripper (Lane) who turns out to be married to the closest thing to a classic villain in the film, a dice-game proprietor (TL Jones) who takes an instant dislike to Dillon's JC. But even Jones's Cole isn't a complete bastard (if entirely too close for anyone's comfort), and that's one of the strengths of the film...even the most melodramatic aspects tend to be tempered by realism. The self-destructive tendencies of various characters are only infrequently going to put them in jail or in the ground, or they wouldn't've lasted as long as they have, even the young twenty-somethings at the heart of the drama. A decent soundtrack (even if the abridging of Joe Turner's "Shake, Rattle and Roll" is annoying...then again, I hadn't ever let myself realize the origin of the titular metaphor of the song is out of dice gaming, even as most of the song is about rather earthier matters) of period music, and if Diane Lane at college age, her face fuller with baby fat, isn't quite as stunning as she would be in the next decade or so, she was already a veteran and capable of enlivening the closest to stereotyped role among those in the's probably a pity Amis doesn't act much any longer (in her role as Queen of the World). Yet another Howard novel for me to read. This film is available on DVD, and I had an opportunity to watch the entirety, uncensored and un-cropped/panned and scanned (unfortunate sins of the This TV presentation), on the website Crackle.

And I certainly have enough Simenon to read; I don't know the other adaptations of the novels well at all (I've seen perhaps one of the ITV Michael Gambon adaptations and no one else's yet), but again the leisureliness of the Francophone co-productions, not dawdling, is welcome and adds to their verisimilitude. Cremer seems to be enjoying himself, while elegantly immersing himself in the role; the supporting casts in the several productions I've seen have been uniformly good. Maigret Has Scruples (or, more correctly, Les Scrupules de Maigret) is hardly the most perplexing fair-play mystery one is going to try to puzzle out, but it is well-done on every reasonable level, and the subtitles seem good to me as someone with perhaps twenty words and two sentences of French (though MHz WorldView, to appease sensitive affiliate stations still waiting for Obama Administration to call off the Bush Admin's FCC hound dogs, will rather [intentionally] blatantly replace a subtitle such as "Bitch!" with one of "Hag!"). Uncensored dvds are available, though only in Region 2 editions (unlike most of the wheel series, available directly from MHz WV in Region 1 which should play in all rather than most US machines these days--most machines are pretty universal whether they're supposed to be or not).

Friday, April 1, 2011


I've reviewed a number of coffee-table books over the course of the several years of Friday's "Forgotten"...but here are three which have made an impression that I'd not yet featured:

Our Amazing World of Nature, atypically for a Reader's Digest book, was not only not a collection of "condensed" essays, but was a big, handsome anthology with excellent photography accompanying a number of pop-science and natural history essays by the likes of Donald Culross Peattie...almost as if RD was saying to Time-Life, we can play your game, too. And the selections, which went from the most general essays on astronomy, geology and oceanography to rather specific entries on various species of animal, were nearly uniformly engaging...this is the first of my parents' books I remember reading from cover to cover, over the course of a number of bedtimes.

David Kyle's The Pictorial History of Science Fiction, which saw rather bad covers in both its US and UK editions (the latter're tipped in part by the near-parity of UK to US magazine titles in this one) was one of the first references I paged through after catching the fiction-magazine bug full-on, and the illustrations and the rather sensible text were evocative, to say the least...the 1930s Expressionist covers for Amazing Stories alone were enough to give me an appreciation for what had been tried throughout the history of fiction-magazine publishing (I was certainly reading magazine fiction from as many eras as there were already, but one didn't find the back issues trailing that far back casually lying about):

Amazing in 1933 tried an interesting run of covers...

The rather more "realistic" covers of the past and future issues were at times striking, but I've always appreciated these.

Well, this captioning workaround seems to be slightly effective in separating the Firefox-view cover images...

While los Bros. Hernandez, Jaime and Gilbert and occasionally Mario, the perpetrators of Love and Rockets, the flagship title for the Fantagraphics comics line (along with their critical nonfiction magazine, The Comics Journal), were probably the greatest impetus for my beginning to read comics again fairly regularly as an adult, and thus to come across Wimmen's Comix and Twisted Sisters and Alan Moore's work and that of others who had been busily advancing the form...though I'd never given up on newspaper strips, and so knew of (introduction author) Alison Bechdel's work in the "alternative" press. I'd actually bought this for my friend Alice, who fell in profound love with Jaime Hernandez's two initially-young LA punk-rocker girl characters, Hopey (Esperanza) Glass and Margarita Luisa "Maggie" Chascarrillo (pictured on the cover) who individually and together tend to be the focus of JH's stories for the comic, at various stages of their lives over the the decades the title has been published (Gilbert Hernandez focuses on the characters living in a Central American town, Palomar, in the 1950s, and their often US-emigrated offspring). Whenever one reads of comics being compared to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, one is probably happened upon a reference to L&R.

For more coffee-table (and other) books this week, please see host Patti Abbott's blog. And, goodness, does Blogspot suck. On Firefox at the moment, the Amazing covers overlap ridiculously; on IE, they are rather widely spaced. Let's see if I can fix that at all...well, somewhat.